When you reach out to a family law attorney, you are investing both time and money to become educated on the law, court process and your options. Make sure you use the time wisely, not just to spill your guts– that’s something you should do with a friend or therapist. In the meantime, here are 4 key questions to keep in mind during your consult:
(1) What Should You Expect During An Initial Consult? Aside from telling your story, use this opportunity to learn about your attorney’s experience and philosophical approach to family law cases. Does this person focus on family law or dabble in a variety of practice areas? Is this someone who is quick to start throwing grenades or more of a calming influence likely to promote settlement talks before filing in court? Are they able to give you a roadmap and referrals to other services you might need? If it doesn’t seem like a good fit, go get a second opinion.
(2) What is a Parenting Plan? This is an agreement parents develop with respect to their regular time-sharing schedule with the kids, as well as provisions for all major holidays and summer arrangements, and it establishes a mechanism for making major decisions, particularly with respect to education and medical issues. It should also address issues of child support and payment of extra-ordinary expenses. Some parents opt to use a mediator or Parenting Coach to work this out prior to filing anything in court, which can significantly reduce the cost and aggravation for the family.
(3) How Much Will This Cost? Most family law cases are billed on an hourly basis, with rates varying based on the experience and reputation of the attorneys. It also depends greatly on the process you choose for getting divorce. If the parties just need someone to draft the agreement they worked out themselves, this will take very little time. If both parties agree to mediate, they can normally split the fee for each 2-3 hour session. If you each hire separate attorneys, but are committed to working on an agreement prior to going to court, this cooperative process can also keep costs at a minimum. Filing first is going to require substantial litigation retainers upfront, and this is usually the most expensive option.
(4) What is an uncontested or mutual consent divorce? In many states, a request for divorce where all issues have already been addressed in a signed agreement is usually streamlined, and can often be completed in less than 60 days. The hard part is working on the agreement. Afterwards, most of the required court forms should be available either online or at the courthouse.
Knowledge really is power, so make sure you learn about your rights and legal obligations during that first meeting with your attorney. Below is a 2 minute video that shows you how I’d answer these frequently asked questions: